Mellow Yellow: Risotto alla Milanese

Risotto is classic comfort food in my eyes. It contains all the necessary items that bring solace and protection from life: carbs (yes the C word) and fat. Like a savoury rice pudding without the divisive tarpaulin of skin, this classic staple of Italian cooking is one of those foods you can feel hugging you from within.

It comes in many different forms, but surely there is no finer take on this most sinful of rice dishes than the Milanese version: Lit up with the deep gold bleeding from strands of that most magical of spices, saffron, risotto alla milanese is resplendent in its simplicity. Like many classic dishes, it is steeped in the mythology that there is this one great authentic recipe that all cooks must obey, but this simply isn’t the case….as Nigella Lawson once quipped, cooking is alive, like language…so I don’t proclaim this to be an authentic take on the perfect accompaniment to osso bucco veal, but merely my version of it.

I have no time for snobbery in the kitchen and I used whatever was to hand, including rosé wine (it was dregs of some trashy Gallo White Grenache left in the fridge and needed using up) and stock from a cube (because the most pretentious foodies of course deem any stock not home made as disreputable and not the thing), as well as grated cheddar instead of parmesan. Not that I’m going out of my way to be rebellious here; I just used what was in the fridge and on the shelf. By all means use parmesan and white wine as well as homemade chicken stock if you have them.  If you’re opening a bottle of wine especially for this, obviously drink the rest with the meal! Vermouth would also be good here if you can’t justify buying a bottle of wine just for this.

I will be bossy about one thing – you MUST use saffron otherwise this isn’t Milanese risotto! It’s better value to buy saffron online than the little jars from the supermarket, and you get more for your money. It keeps for ages so do invest. No turmeric please. The flavour is quite different and would be invasive here.

You could even use cheap long grain rice if you wanted if that’s all you have/budget is tight, but you won’t get the same creamy texture – risotto rice is short grain and can absorb more liquid, but I used to make risotto using long grain from my old student cookbook years ago and it does work  in a similar fashion – ris = rice after all, so I can vouch for that as a commendable alternative. Just don’t serve it to a discerning Italian.

This recipe serves one happily, but can easily be doubled for two.

Risotto alla Milanese per uno

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60g butter (go by eye if that’s easier)

1 tbsp olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 stick celery, finely chopped

150g short-grain/risotto rice – I used arborio but if you can find Vialone Nano rice, please use that.

125ml (small glass) rosé or white wine

500ml chicken or vegetable stock – I recommend Knorr chicken cubes as it helps with the yellow colour

Grated parmesan (or cheddar if you haven’t got any parmesan) to serve

Generous pinch saffron threads

  1. Mix saffron into the stock and pour into a small saucepan set over a medium heat. It is important to keep the stock hot.
  2.  Over a medium heat, melt half the butter along with the olive oil and tumble in the finely chopped vegetables. Cook for about 5 minutes, sprinkling with salt to stop colouring, until soft.
  3. Tip in the flat pearls of rice and stir until they are shiny and slick with onion-celery oil – this is known as tostatura in Italian.
  4. Pour over wine and stir, allowing the rice grains to absorb it.
  5. Once the wine is absorbed, ladle in the stock one ladleful at a time, stirring constantly and not adding the next ladleful until the previous has been fully absorbed by the rice. Keep going until all the stock is used up and the rice is al dente…it should have some bite but be creamy and tender; this should take around 20 minutes.

  6. Don’t leave the stove during this. It’s hard to be precise as different bags of the same rice can differ in their thirst, so you may not need all the stock, or you may need to add extra water from the kettle.
  7. Once the rice is ready (do taste and check the texture) get ready to make the mantecatura; the all important finishing touch. Dot the risotto with the remaining butter, along with the grated cheese (Use roughly 2 tbsp but it’s to taste), and, should you have some on standby, a little cream (no more than 1 tbsp otherwise you risk muting the brilliant summery yellow of the risotto) and stir until melted in and creamy – the Venetians call this all’onda which means ‘with a wave to it’. You don’t want a rock-solid mass.
  8. Serve immediately.

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